The 9 Best Small Towns in America

The Sweet editors are sharing their favorite small towns—come along with us to the most delightful corners of the U.S.!

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Small Town I Love: New Harbor, Maine

Photographed by Maia Schoenfelder
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Maia Schoenfelder, social media editor, @maiaschoenf

My Perfect Day There: This coastal town on a tiny peninsula an hour north of Portland, Maine is best enjoyed in late summer. My perfect day starts with a walk in the cool air to the town store, Riley's, to grab some coffee, fresh bread, and farm cheese. Once back at the cabin, I ditch my sweater and let the emerging sun warm me up. Around 11 a.m., my family and I grab our beach chairs and take a four-minute drive to Pemaquid beach for some reading and a walk along the rocks. The water is in the low 60s, but that doesn't stop me from jumping in and paddling around.

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We finish the day at Round Pond, which is home to the best lobster pound in the state of Maine. There's not much there—just a takeout window and picnic tables—but the lobsters are quite literally straight off the boat. Top off the meal with some summer corn and Maine blueberries. It really doesn't get any better than that—except for when we drive home, and make a pit-stop at Granite Hall for some ice cream and penny candy. Then sleep, and repeat!

Small Town I Love: Tarpon Springs, Florida

Mallory Rice, deputy editor, @mallory-rice

My Perfect Day There: I grew up in Florida, and the longer I'm away from it the more I appreciate its particular brand of weirdness. When I visit home, my favorite place to go is Tarpon Springs Beach, where there's a small coastal community composed almost entirely of Greek immigrants who originally settled there in the late 1800s and created an enormous sponge-diving industry. The town itself, which is referred to as "the sponge docks," has a very strange vibe—an indecipherable, sun-bleached mix of tourist traps and extremely authentic hole-in-the-walls. Everyone who lives there is very tan and usually a little drunk.

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You could spend the whole day shopping for sponges (if that's your thing), but I usually beeline for Hellas, my favorite restaurant there, which serves a Greek salad that is unique to the area. (Until I moved to New York, I had no idea that Greek salad does not typically come with a big scoop of potato salad at the bottom.) The last time I visited, I spontaneously took a dolphin-watching boat tour and learned a lot of really bizarre things about their mating rituals. I now keep these facts in my back pocket for whenever a conversation gets boring—Florida is very good for that kind of thing.

Small Town I Love: Red Bank, New Jersey

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Rebecca Deczynski, editorial assistant, @rebeccadecz

My Perfect Day There: This quaint New Jersey town may be located on the famous shore, but the beach isn't its major draw for me. That would be the massive, multi-building Antique Center of Red Bank. I can wander for hours through the chandelier-lit rooms filled with curios of china, baskets of tchotchkes, and racks upon racks of vintage cocktail dresses, lush coats, and vibrant patterned blouses. I start my day at Good Karma Cafe for a vegan breakfast (try the Southern style biscuits and gravy for a homey yet surprisingly wholesome dish) before diving headfirst into the treasure trove of antiques. My favorite find ever was a perfect, black velvet 1940s hat I scored for just $10!

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After shopping, I head to Rook Coffee to recharge with a cup of iced coffee and a fresh roll with delicious fig butter. Some other nearby stops include Jack's Music Shoppe to flip through records, Earth Spirit Metaphysical Books where you can handpick your very own crystals, and Backwards Glances for perfectly faded vintage T-shirts. To top off the day, I always pop into The Melting Pot for a dinner of cheese fondue (the spinach artichoke blend is unbeatable and in my opinion universally pleasing), then head to the landmarked Count Basie Theatre for a summer film screening or concert.

Small Town I Love: Yarmouth, Massachusetts

Photograph by Chanel Parks

Chanel Parks, assistant editor, @chanelinezp

My Perfect Day There: Yarmouth is the best place to go if you want to recreate your childhood—at least that's what I did when I visited the Cape Cod area last summer: My friends and I crafted a day full of activities that would make any 10-year-old squeal with excitement (I did even as a then 24-year-old). First, we spent an early afternoon eating slushies and frozen grapes as we read by the shore. Then, we headed over to Seafood Sam's and gorged on some of the best fried seafood I'll probably ever have in my life (get the butterfly shrimp). Our next stop was the vintage candy store, aptly called Candy Co.—I stocked up on all of my favorites, such as Warheads, Crybabies, and Mary Jane's.

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With our sugar highs, we went down the road to Cape Bowl where we played candlepin bowling (a game that uses skinny pins and tiny bowling balls). The alley also has a huge arcade where we spent probably $100 on old-school games like PacMan and newer ones like Fruit Ninja. Once we collected a pile of tickets, we loaded up on prizes of candies and those notebooks with the furry pens. For a nightcap of sorts, we headed to Cape Cod Creamery. We each indulged in a double-scoop cone (mine was a strawberry and cookies-and-cream combo), while sitting on the shop's deck in oversized lawn chairs overlooking Main Street. I could relive that day over and over again.

Small Town I Love: Talkeetna, Alaska

Stefan with Stubbs, Talkeetna's honorary mayor.

Stefan Marolachakis, senior editor, @stefanmymind

My Perfect Day There: This tiny town just two hours north of Anchorage serves as a jumping-off point for expeditions into Denali National Park, which is what brought me to the area in the first place. I started the day with one of the most fantastic breakfasts of my life at the Roadhouse, a 99-year-old lodging house and restaurant where the chef's abilities are not hampered one bit by a longstanding scrambled-only eggs policy—a result of having grown weary of the innumerable and widely varied requests thrown their way by climbers swooping in from all over the world.

After a delicious feast of scrambled eggs, home fries, and hot cakes, I headed over to Nagley's General Store where Stubbs the cat, the town's honorary mayor, holds court. (He was bestowed the title back in 1997, and it stuck; one meeting with the charming fellow is enough to see why his popularity with his constituents hasn't waned.) Then it was off to K2 Aviation to hop into one of their seven-seater planes for a "flightseeing" tour of Denali National Park, an experience I imagine is the closest one can get to interstellar travel without leaving the planet. At dusk, I paid a visit to the nearby Sun Dog Kennel to meet some of the sled dogs who run the Iditarod, then ended the day with dinner and a tall glass of Denali Schwarzbier at the Denali Brew Pub.

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Small Town I Love: Guerneville, California

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Martin Sanchez, writer, @thet_t

My Perfect Day There: Sonoma County is certainly not short of wonderful places to visit, but Guerneville, the small town surrounded by Redwoods along the Russian River, is one of the best. In the 1970s and early '80s, an eclectic mix of hippies, bikers, and queer San Franciscans began to make it their home away from home, and that has left Guerneville with an inimitable, free-spirited energy. The best place to start your Guerneville adventure is on Main Street, of course. Hit up Big Bottom Market for their signature, pillowy biscuits, and be sure to pick up some picnic provisions for later in the day.

After that, consider hiking the nearby Armstrong Redwoods Park, taking a canoe trip down the Russian River, or doing a tasting at Porter Bass Winery. Once you've soaked up the outdoors, head back to Main Street for seasonal small plates (very California) at Boon Eat + Drink. And while Guerneville does offer modern lodgings at places like The r3 Hotel or Boon Hotel + Spa, it's worth looking at places in the even smaller towns, such as the nearby Monte Rio, which also runs along the Russian River and is lined with houses for rent that often include private access to the river.

Small Town I Love: Waimea, Big Island of Hawaii

Photograph courtesy of Bob Linsdell/Flickr
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Molly Elizalde, associate editor, @mollyelizalde

My Perfect Day There: My family has been visiting the Big Island of Hawaii ever since the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel first opened there in 1965. Every summer of my childhood, we took a trip there, and my cousins and I would roam the halls of the airy, modernist resort as if it was our own backyard. For me, the magic of the hotel comes through the outdoor passageways that are trimmed with overgrown plants and among the eclectic Pacific and Asian art collection of idols and animals that once seemed to me as if they came to life every night while we were sleeping.

My ideal morning would be spent at the beach (it's notoriously the best on the island), reading in my family's spot by the back lawn. Then, I'd spend the afternoon in town for a visit to the Gallery of Great Things. Owner Maria Brick sells the most beautiful sculpture, jewelry, paintings, and furniture by local artists. My favorite piece we own from her is a handcarved wooden fruit bowl with dragon faces on either end; but if you don't have room in your suitcase, the perfectly jumbled shop is just as good for browsing. I love ending the day at locavore restaurant Merriman's right around the corner (order the classic wok charred ahi) before turning in listening to the sound of the waves.

Small town I Love: Dansville, New York

Photograph by Christian Storm

Christian Storm, photo editor, @cstorm44

My Perfect Day There: There is nothing I love more in the world than a road trip, but I especially enjoy doing it solo. I relish the ability to turn down any weird street I see or stop at any interesting place I find without feeling like a burden on other travelers. I'm fairly type-A, but I find that I am my most zen and present when I'm driving by myself, looking for things to take pictures of. It was a few years ago that I found myself in Dansville on my way home from a three-day road trip around the Finger Lakes. As I drove down the main street at dusk, before heading to my campsite at the nearby Stony Brook State Park, I was overwhelmed by the number of photographs I wanted to take.

Photograph by Christian Storm

On my left was a funky diner with a great sign. To my right, a dusty and abandoned storefront. And then, the pièce de résistance: A home video store with a massive homemade sign with one of the letters missing (somehow it was still in business renting out VHS tapes to the locals). It was as if someone had whipped my dream picture-taking town into existence. I grabbed a bite at the town diner, Sunrise Restaurant—great cheeseburger!—and walked around a bit before heading to bed. The next morning, I woke up at dawn and wandered, shooting four or five rolls of film. I'm not sure if anyone else on Earth would have the same reaction to Dansville, but, to me, it's magic.

Small Town I Love: Stowe, Vermont

Photograph courtesy of Kathy Schrock/Flickr

Ryan Adelson, editorial intern, @ryanshelby15

My Perfect Day There: Growing up, my weekends were spent in the quaint town of Stowe, Vermont where my family has a home. We're all avid skiers, so Stowe was the perfect destination with Mount Mansfield and Spruce Peak just a 15-minute drive away—I could wake up and be zipping down the slopes in no time. But my favorite time to visit is summer: The best mornings include a trip to Harvest Market for a delicious berry smoothie and muffin.

Then, I either take a 10-mile bike ride, or go on a three-mile hike to Sterling Pond in Smugglers' Notch. I love the Blue Donkey's burger and fries for lunch, but the real highlight is dessert at the Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream Factory. A tour costs just $3 and you get a free tasting at the end! I always catch an evening concert at the Von Trapp Family Lodge (which was built by the family portrayed in The Sound of Music) and end the day at Flannel restaurant. I still get excited to make my own s'mores on their outdoor fire pits to finish off a great dinner.

From: Seventeen
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